Winner of a 2013 Gold Readers' Favorite International Book Award
Winner of a 2013 Silver Benjamin Franklin Book Award
ForeWord Book of the Year Award Finalist
We live in difficult, stressful times. You've read books and done workshops, but you still have to face so many stubborn obstacles. Yet it's often our pain and dissatisfaction that push us to seek a more conscious life.
Your Ultimate Life Planis the missing "how to" for getting unstuck and moving past your problems and into a richer and more meaningful life, creating lasting change, and making a difference. It's a roadmap to living your most happy, most authentic, most amazing life.
Your Ultimate Life Plan is a practical guide that will help you improve every moment of your life by teaching you how to build:
Your Ultimate Life Plan is the distillation of Dr. Howard's 20-plus years of experience as a licensed psychotherapist and spiritual teacher.
This "workshop in a book" will help you do more than understand your true selfyou'll experience it.
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Why Aren't We Happier?
Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.
— Sri Ramana Maharshi
Take a moment to become present. Breathe in and out a few times.
Begin when you feel ready.
If happiness is our nature, why aren't we happier?
Maybe it's because we're conditioned to think happiness is somewhere other than already within us. Maybe we equate particular kinds of lives, moods, relationships, or cars with happiness.
Maybe it's because we're too busy to be fully present to our lives. We're overwhelmed with tasks, decisions, and copious amounts of information to digest, barely taking time to breathe, much less connect within. It could also be that anxiety, caused by global chaos, war, and environmental and financial concerns, keeps happiness at bay. Surely, we experience greater stress in our lives than ever before.
For most of us, happiness depends upon whatever's happening around us. It's relative to the moment, our circumstances, our relationships, our culture, our jobs, and our understanding of ourselves. Of course we're affected by our circumstances, and there will certainly be times of confusion, anger, and sadness, but as we continue to grow we learn to embrace our difficulties and suffering. We become fulfilled. Like a great river, we become stronger, wider, and deeper.
I'd like you to learn that happiness is a mindset, underlying everything you think and feel. It's a deeper level of contentment and peace, a greater connection to life, God, and the world. Even if you feel happy much of the time, you're always capable of being happier.
Creating the life you long for is a navigated journey. Embodying all of you is a dance. It's a movement toward receiving personal fulfillment, where hidden parts of yourself are discovered. In the midst of this dance something happens, and you swing back into the relative humanness of pain, disappointment, and setback. Mired in suffering, you'll call forth Grace and tenderness, revealing the sweetness and beauty of your soul. You'll learn to weave the fragments of yourself together; come to know meaning, value. Your vision opens up to new possibilities. As you continue through life, clearing the brush out of the way, you will find the Self you long for. You'll discover the happiness you seek has been there all along!
Maybe you never knew, you've forgotten, or no one told you that you have the inner strength necessary to develop your innate potential. You might not feel sure of all that's possible; what you've tried didn't work as you'd hoped and so you assume this is all there is. You feel stuck or just can't see your greatness. You don't know how amazing you really are!
So how do you accomplish what you know deep down is possible? What will it take to live a deeply satisfying life and achieve lasting change? What steps will get you from A to Z, or at least to D?
This book provides a plan. Most life plans are about action and accomplishment, and take you step by step toward achieving your goals. Your Ultimate Life Plan is very different, and much simpler. There's only one step — to meet every moment as consciously as you can; there's only one goal — to live the fullness of who you truly are.
As you may have already learned, simple isn't always easy. Distractions and inner blocks stop you from being fully present and conscious in the moment. This book will teach you how to clear away those blocks. It will show you how to connect deeply with your essential self, living the amazing life you were born to live, on every level of being — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Self-discovery is life's greatest adventure.
As you apply the principles and practices in this book, you'll be better able to accept yourself, move through fear, and recognize and heal your limiting belief systems. They will help you reach important goals, create healthy relationships, improve your physical health, and enable you to access your creativity. You can fulfill your birthright of happiness, clarity, joy, and peace!
It doesn't matter where you are in life. Whether you're teaching yoga, being a mompreneur, running a company, juggling work and family, or experiencing a major life transition, it's often your pain, unhappiness, or a sense that There's got to be more calling you to live more consciously. Some begin the process of transformation from an emptiness or longing, ranging from a vague feeling that something isn't quite right to deep distress. A single event, such as the death of a loved one or loss of a job, can leave you wanting more. I've often seen discomforts such as these be the motivation needed for us to recognize hidden or forgotten parts of ourselves.
We often see ways we'd like to improve our lives to make ourselves happier. Perhaps you want better relationships, more time for yourself, or greater prosperity. Maybe you've been plugging away at the same desires and blocks for a while, but every time you reach for deeper meaning or satisfaction, those lifelong issues get in the way. Or maybe your progress is so slow, your hope and vision fades. Or perhaps one area of your life has become amazing while others don't work as well.
This book will help you achieve lasting change on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels. By diving into these multiple layers of existence, you'll grow aware of who you are now and everything available to you. It answers the question, How do I change? The answer isn't something that manifests with magical thinking, but is grounded in awareness that takes effort and attention to cultivate. You're worth it. Through growth and development, your ego will relax and your true nature will shine through. When you learn the fundamental aspects of change, you'll awaken to your unique God-given personality, your Divine spiritual essence.
How Do We Change?
Perhaps you've begun your journey toward greater happiness and transformation with self-help books, workshops, or counseling. You might have seen positive change right away, or you got new tools and understanding that helped you feel you've accomplished something. You might be inspired and brimming with insights after a weekend workshop, yet these insights often have a short shelf life. Old habits, fueled by unconscious thoughts and feelings, creep back in. Then what do you do?
How do you find the time and focus necessary to create deep, lasting change when your life is already crammed full of things to do, from the time you open your eyes in the morning to when you close them at night? How do you squeeze it all into 24 hours? In your commitment to get everything done, you reach for the easiest solution, and you're not alone.
Many people look for fast and easy cures for their pain, problems, or unrealized goals. Various personal development and spiritual growth programs offer solutions requiring minimal effort. We're naturally seduced by the promise of a quick fix, yet seeking fast solutions often only hinders your journey.
Yes, it's true that transformation can take place in an instant. Grace is always available, but can instant transformation be sustained over time? You need the ability to consistently:
Interact and communicate your needs calmly and clearly with others, even when you're angry
Nurture and maintain healthy relationships
Live your life rooted in your authentic self, coming from mature peacefulness
It takes time — years even — to develop a healthy and mature psyche that can sustain transformation. So as you open to greater consciousness, you can maintain the new perspective, embodying it in every aspect of life. Sometimes we think we're done; we've gone as far as we can go. We assume our struggles are normal and we'll just have to live with them. When we look at the world around us we see people with similar problems, but "normal" is relative. A label can keep you stuck in fear, resigned to struggles and suffering you don't have to continue living with.
Are you settling for less than you have to?
Life seems hard when your happiness is based upon having a good day, with no upset. Something unexpected happens — an event, loss, or unforeseen setback — and you're caught off-guard, feeling lost again. Sound familiar? You might think you're finally done with an issue, but then see more work is needed to peel away the residual and subtle layers so you feel lighter and more spontaneous.
No matter how long you've struggled with your issues, you can mature into someone who understands and embraces important life lessons while living from your talents and strengths. You can make wiser, more effective choices, achieving goals aligned with your deepest purpose, not just your momentary ego desires. When you're at the whim of moment-to-moment hungers, you can't find peace for long; but coming from real wisdom and maturity, your experience of happiness broadens and relaxes. Even your desires shift.
Each of us has a next level of achievement, fulfillment, and happiness that's possible, but before you can change your life, embodying all you truly are, you've got to examine the issues blocking your path. Your process begins by looking at the origin of your issues, why you've held on to them, how you relate to them, and why your goals have eluded you.
Where You Get Stuck
Now let's explore where you get stuck — those persistent life issues, sometimes blatantly obvious or frustratingly subtle, that annoyingly nip at your heels. If you've been involved in personal development for a while, you've crossed paths with these issues many times. You probably roll your eyes when they reappear. In workshops, I often refer to these as the "six issues [pick any number] that we came here to work on." Like a jack-in-the-box, life turns the handle until the issue pops up again. Your job is to cycle through them until they stop showing up.
Why is it that an issue you've worked so hard and long on, to the point of feeling as though you might actually be done with it, suddenly reappears? Sometimes it seems that you can't resolve these issues, or even lessen them. To understand their stubborn nature, you must first notice when the issues arise. In my experience, issues remain because we don't believe healing is possible, we're avoiding the issue, and/or we don't know how to take it further. Just because you've covered that ground before doesn't mean you've really walked the territory. You might have developed strategies to avoid painful issues, even when you think you're dealing with them. You may need to dive deeper for lasting change, especially if you've attempted a quick fix before.
Our stuckness is usually rooted in feelings and beliefs formed in our past. In other words, if something feels stuck, you're probably repeating patterns from your youth that feel natural or automatic to you. We all have personal history forming much of who we are today. Those six stubborn issues can serve as the impetus to keep you searching, growing, and integrating, if you're willing to follow your wisdom. They can serve as guiding lights, but left under the rug, those issues, containing unresolved childhood adversities, remain embedded in your psyche as unconscious programming that drives your life.
Dealing With Stubborn Issues
So, you thought you'd already dealt with that issue, yet here it is again. Why?
I know it doesn't always seem this way, but when a stubborn issue blocks you, there are ways it can teach and assist you in fulfilling your potentials. As you continue your work with these issues, the meditations, exercises, and questions in this book will support your path to change, integration, and freedom. You'll understand the inherent gift of your pain, as well as the importance of confronting, exploring, and healing your fears.
Here are a few things to do if a stubborn issue comes up (again!). First, check to see how you might be avoiding thoughts, feelings, sensations, or historical patterns. There are many ways to duck and dodge discomfort. Some are trickier to recognize than others:
You might ignore or deny the issue, or try to take your mind off it.
You may avoid the issue by overdoing seemingly constructive activities.
You may use substances or behaviors in an attempt to avoid deeper thoughts and feelings or alter your mindset.
It's important to learn how to self-soothe in healthy ways when faced with difficult thoughts, feelings, or sensations. Soothing yourself isn't avoiding, it's finding an observer or "adult" part of you that can acknowledge the painful feelings, and calm and console that wounded part of you. If, in any moment, you can't quite grasp the idea that healing is possible, take a deep breath and don't give up on yourself. You have far greater potential than you think!
Recognizing the way you're being with stuck issues is key to shifting them, and it's what this book is all about. Of course everyone has challenges, but learning how to be with those struggles makes a world of difference. In this book, you'll learn a variety of ways to go deeper with them, lightening your load in the process.
You might say, "Well, I've tried to be with what came up but the pain was overwhelming." There are ways to be present with something difficult that's arising, and still put only your toe in the water of feelings and thoughts surrounding the issue. Breathe! You choose how fast or slow you go — but between you and me, I'm sure you'd like to change these patterns ... yesterday.
What Keeps You Stuck?
There are a number of subtle (and not so subtle) strategies, conscious and unconscious, that may be keeping your issues alive though you've done your best to heal them. We all have conflicting feelings and thoughts. I'm sure you recognize what seems like contradictory, internal forces pulling at you. Most of us have tried to lose weight, exercise, meditate, or achieve other reasonable goals, yet our resistance stood its ground.
In his poem, "The Song of Myself," Walt Whitman wrote:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Whitman spoke not only from the larger perspective of humanity, he spoke of the contradictions within ourselves. These opposing forces are usually caused by a young inner part of us. For example, this part may want to "comfort" us with ice cream, attempting to numb our feelings.
These conflicts can also have other levels. Sometimes conflicting thoughts and feelings signify something deeper calling for your attention. If you're failing to meet a goal, for example, maybe another path is using this discomfort to signal you. Your path is probably not straight or direct; growth often happens as you spiral through layers. You might have needed to walk in this direction to learn valuable skills and lessons, and now this behavior, job, or action no longer serves you.
Sometimes we misinterpret deeper desires trying to reveal themselves. As you deepen your connection with yourself, the longing of your essence emerges instead of only habitual, cultural, and programmed desires. For example, I always wanted to sing, dance, and act, and these desires were perfect for me at the time. I loved it! It trained me as a speaker and performer, and my circumstances challenged me to grow into my next level of calling, closer to the True Self. Twenty years from now I might express that connection differently (I'll keep you posted!).
As you see both the contradictions and longings emerging within you, notice the thoughts and feelings that seem to keep you holding on to your issues. You might feel discouraged and label this self-sabotage, and in a sense it's true. Some part of you stops you from reaching your goal. But these contradictory forces contain valuable messages, clues that show you how to reconcile them as you deepen your exploration. Many of your strategies were designed for protection and survival when you were very young, believing they'd guarantee your safety and you'd get the love and happiness you needed.
So if you recognize yourself in any of the five strategies I'm about to share, remember they began as survival and coping skills. As you recognize your participation in these strategies, you can redirect your energy toward deeper goals and healing.
Strategy 1: Reaching for Hidden Payoffs
One reason our stubborn issues change slowly, along with the unconscious programming beneath them, is because there's often a hidden value — or payoff — they provide. When you feel dissatisfied, allow it to prompt you to explore your unhappiness and what you may be getting out of it. What are the secondary gains?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Your Ultimate Life Plan"
Copyright © 2013 Dr. Jennifer Howard.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Lama Surya Das 11
Introduction: Are You Ready to Live the Life You've Always Dreamed Of? 15
Part I The Foundation of a Conscious Life
Chapter 1 Why Aren't We Happier? 27
Chapter 2 Elements of a More Conscious Life 43
Chapter 3 Everything's an Inside Job: Understanding Your Personal Programming 65
Chapter 4 Journeying From Wounded Ego to Sacred Self 83
Chapter 5 Recognizing Distractions and Developing Discernment: Knowing Your Wise Inner Voice 107
Part II Exploring Multi-Level Consciousness
Chapter 6 Living a 4-D Life-Embracing the Four Dimensions of Consciousness 129
Chapter 7 The Action-Physical Dimension 145
Chapter 8 The Formation-Emotional Dimension 165
Chapter 9 The Creation-Mental Dimension 185
Chapter 10 The Emanation-Spiritual Dimension 205
Part III Your Ultimate Life Plan
Chapter 11 The Multidimensional Awareness Practice 223
Chapter 12 Meeting Every Moment Awake, Aware, and Alive 237
Chapter 13 Creating a Life (and World) That You Love 249
Recommended Reading 259
About the Author 287